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Political Independents Grow in Number at the Expense of the GOP

Below is an excerpt from our new report, “Political Independents: Who They Are and What Impact They Have on Politics Today.” To download the full report, click here.

The number of self-described independents is increasing, and this growth is at the GOP’s expense

According to a Gallup poll released in January of 2014, the number of political independents in the United States was at a record high.[i] Specifically, the percentage of Americans who identified as independent was 42 percent, the highest percentage since Gallup began asking this question in the 1980s. Most of that growth was at the expense of Republican identification. This same series of polls estimated that only 25 percent of Americans identified as Republicans – down from 34 percent in 2004. Thirty-one percent of Americans identified as Democrats, which is down from its 2008 peak of 36 percent. The Gallup report speculated that this growth of self-described independents was due to “Americans’ record or near-record negative views of the two major U.S. parties, of Congress, and their low level of trust in government more generally.”

In 2012, the GOP improved its performance among independents, but it needs to do better

The Roper Center, which maintains a database of presidential exit polls, includes polls that provide the party identification of respondents. Using these data, we can examine the trend in vote choice in presidential elections among self-described independents.

We see immediately that Romney performed reasonably well among self-described independents, earning a higher share than McCain or Bush. In fact, Romney was the first Republican presidential candidate since 1988 to win 50 percent or more of the independent vote. While this is encouraging news for Republican operatives, it is important to know that, going forward, the Republican Party will have to either substantially increase the number of Americans that identify with the party or gain an even greater share of the independent vote if it wishes to remain competitive at the national level.

[i] Jeffrey Jones. 2014. “Record-High 42% of Americans Identify as IndependentsJa Gallup. January 8, 2014, retrieved March 26, 2014, http://www.gallup.com/poll/166763/record-high-americans-identify-independents.aspx